On Writing What You Know

If you’ve ever put pen to paper to write anything more imaginative than a shopping list, you’ve probably heard the phrase ‘write what you know’. The only problem with that advice is that often what we know is rather boring. Tolkien didn’t know hobbits, JK Rowling didn’t know wizards, and George R. R. Martin didn’t know dragons. Had they all followed the ‘write what you know’ advice then we wouldn’t have some of the most popular fantasy novels of all time. So what can really be taken from that oft-quoted phrase? I have two suggestions for you to improve your writing:


1) Write the emotions you know

We haven’t all experienced the apocalypse or the middle of a battlefield or finding a soulmate, but we all know fear and grief and love. If you’ve ever faced these emotions then you know that, in the moment, they feel like they take over your whole life. They can easily be extrapolated to circumstances you will likely never know because the base feelings are always the same. Losing one person you love is an all too similar feeling than losing a dozen or more. 



2) Know what you write

To write a fantasy world it’s impossible to experience, you need to know it inside and out better than you even know this existence. The laws, the hierarchies, the systems of power, the flora and fauna, the magic (if it exists), the history. If you’re going to convince anyone else that your world is real, it needs to be real to you in your idea and, ideally, on paper. Planning is your friend! Don’t be afraid to add things if they come up in your plot, but start with a base knowledge of what you want to explore.


So go forth, intrepid authors, and write what you love, whether you know it personally or not. Who knows, the reality you create could be the next best-selling fantasy series.